TBT: Photo Referencing, and How Not to Do It

It’s that time of the week again, when we do a “Throwback Thursday” post. Today, I want to reflect on old unfinished cartoon, which I will rename Grandpa Tells a Story*.

Grandpa Tells a Story

Let me start with saying I still think the conceit of this cartoon’s conceptualization is still a sound one: The senile grandfather, with a crown on his head, his Monty Python-esque eyes piercing his scared to death grandson, preaching, dictating, moralizing. But visually, it all feels off. I know now what is wrong with the way it looks, but back then I couldn’t really put a finger on it, and I had nobody telling me the posing of the characters and the sense of perspective just plain suck.

Nowadays I tend to draw from the imagination, with little reference material. But back then I heavily relied on photo references to create my drawings, to the point where some characters look “Frankensteined” together in a non-sensical way. See, for example, above, the grandfather’s right hand. Perspective-wise, it doesn’t match up with the overall pose of the figure. And that’s the first reason why you should never over-rely on photo reference or… well, at least take heed not to do a single figure drawing based on multiple photo references.

The second reason is because photo poses don’t always make good art poses, especially not cartoon poses. This is because when we draw, we want our character figures to have a strong silhouette so the audience can cleary read their shape and action. When dealing with cartoons, this becomes all the more important since — well — you’re already dealing with simple, cartoony designs. So as a cartoonist, you really have to exaggerate their gestures and postures as much as possible. Now if we look back again at the cartoon above, we can all see photo posing at work here, one-on-one translated in a drawing, presenting us a boring, flat silhouette at best and, at worst, an unreadable mass.

So, kids, now you know, and knowing is half the battle of doing better figure drawings.
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*) The original title was (is) a bit too racy to be repeated here.

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ongeKUNSTeld

It’s been awhile. I went to Norway for a few weeks, where I climbed some peaks and read some books — and nothing much besides. Turns out, I really need a computer to get some drawing done. *self-depracating sigh*

Once home, I immediately got back to drawing, first on another Shape of the Week challenge, then on my first editorial illustration for ongeKUNSTeld, a Dutch art blog.

Ongekunsteld, cartoon, kunst, oriental, middle east, fairy tale, tekening, illustratie, beeld, arabian nights, 1001 nights, sprookje, kinderboek, children's book

 

It is here I want to try something new, something I’ve never really done; say — or rather, write — why I drew what I drew. Now, this isn’t going to be a master class in Character Design and Figure Drawing as I’m still learning and struggling myself, but I do hope it might give those of you who are not cartooning experts yet a taste or understanding for what is on a cartoonist’s mind.

  • Size and Proportions
    A normal realistic human figure has a small head and long legs supporting a medium-sized torso. But that is kinda boring, so what you want to do is mix it up a bit. For example: Give your character a disproportionately large head on a tiny torso, with medium-sized stick legs.
  • Figure Posing
    • Balance
      Balance is all about weight distribution. If you mess that up, your figure — its pose and movement — will feel “off”. A case in point here would be the harem belly dancer who looks like she’s about to stumble. However, her visage gives her an intoxicated look, so I suppose you can explain that away, but that is a lousy excuse.
    • Counterbalance
      As a body moves, its weight distribution shifts. So when setting up a character in motion, you need not only think of the main movement of the body, but also of its countermovement to depict this distribution shift. So an example would be, if your character stretches his or her right leg out in front, his or her left arm stretches up behind the back.
    • Congruency
      It would be easy to just forego drawing figures in dynamic poses. But, not only is that boring, “uncartoony”, it wouldn’t make sense in some situations. Let us look, for example, at my very first editorial cartoon. Untitled-1These two characters are supposed to be surprised, shocked, appalled at what they see, but they just stand there stiff and posed, with their arms drooping, as if they’re indifferent. This creates a sense of incongruence, which is detrimental in cartooning art. Examples of more congruent poses would be the stiff, annoyed posture of woman on the left or the gay strut of the Sultan in the former cartoon.
  • “Soundtrack”
    Let us look again at the latter cartoon. See how it doesn’t convey sound — or any show of emotion? Now compare it to the former. Note, for example, the slight crosshatching on the left woman’s face, the tapping of her foot, and the hand-drawn musical note coming from the mouth of the old astrologer. All these little subtle visual cues make a cartoon come to funny life.

Let me know if you want to read more of these sorts of blog posts.